A Pre-Mortem on Republican Losses in 2006 Midterms

Charles Krauthammer has an excellent analysis of what to make of the losses the Republicans are expected to suffer five days from now.

Substantial, yes. Historic, no. Before proclaiming a landslide, one has to ask Henny Youngman’s question: “Compared to what?” (His answer to: “How’s your wife?”) Since the end of World War II, the average loss for a second-term presidency in its sixth year has been 29 House seats and six Senate seats. If you go back to Franklin Roosevelt’s second term, the House loss average jumps to 35. Thus a 25/6 House and Senate loss would be about (and slightly below) the historical average.


Yes, the campaign has been nationalized. But will the results be? In the House, a good five seats (Bob Ney, Tom DeLay, Don Sherwood, Mark Foley, Curt Weldon) are likely to be lost to scandals having nothing to do with Bush or Iraq. Of the losing Senate races, only Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania can be said to be dying for the sins of their party.

The other races, if lost, will be lost largely for local reasons. In Ohio, the state is rocked by an enormous Republican scandal at the gubernatorial level that is taking the whole party down with it, Sen. Mike DeWine included. In Montana, Conrad Burns is in trouble because of his association with Jack Abramoff, not George Bush. In Virginia, a state that should not even be in play, George Allen has run the worst campaign in living memory, stumbling onto one ethnic land mine after another — “macaca,” the Yiddish mama, N-word allegations. And in New Jersey, the one Democratic seat that could conceivably go the other way and save Senate control for the Republicans, the drag on Sen. Bob Menendez is the very nonnational issue of official corruption.

Aside from noting that Burns has been damned near as inept as Allen in addition to the corruption issue and that Santorum is not only ideologically against the tide in his state but running against the son of an immensely popular and recently departed moderate Democrat governor, that’s almost dead on.

That’s not to say that the Iraq War, Abramoff/K-Street Project scandals, and the general perception of the Congressional Republicans as moribund are not playing a significant role in the poll numbers. Krauthammer acknowledges as much. He’s right, though, that losses in the 25/6 neighborhood would be incredibly mild given all that since they are below what one might expect under even favorable circumstances six years into a presidential term.

UPDATE: One wonders whether this says more about the Republican Party’s emergence as a natural “majority” party (in the sense of being the favorites to win the presidency and majorities in both Houses of Congress in a first-past-the past system, rather than 50 percent plus one) or the awesome feebleness of the Democratic Party in capitalizing on an amazing opportunity to win a huge number of seats.

This is not to dismiss real problems with the GOP leadership or success of the Democrats at at least making the negative case as to why the Republicans should no longer govern. I’ve written before about the institutional advantages the Republicans have, especially in the House, that makes losing the majority noteworthy. Still, the sheer confluence of events pointing to defeat for the Republicans should be enough to create a tidal wave of 50 or more seats in the House. That simply doesn’t look like it’s going to happen.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dave Schuler says:

    First things first, James. How’s the dog?

  2. James Joyner says:

    Much better. She’s older (a month shy of her 11th birthday) and having periodic problems with her back. We’ve gotten her weight down and she hadn’t had any episodes but I noticed her acting funny yesterday afternoon on a walk. I took her into the vet and we had x-rays and whatnot done, they were inconclusive, and we got pain meds. She was doing worse this morning, so I took her back in. The doc upped the frequency on the pain meds and prescribed some steroids, which should do the trick. We also had blood drawn and sent to the lab to rule out other factors.

  3. Tano says:

    Y’know James, back in 1874, the sixth year of US Grant’s presidency, the Democrats gained 94 seats, out of a total of 293 House seats! Now that was a wave!

    Now some “spin artists” might point to the Democrats actually gaining 5 seats in the sixth year of Clinton’s presidency, but geez, how relevant would that be?

    Ya see, put in the proper perspective, it seems absolutely certain that the Repbulicans are, at worst, going to suffer trivial losses this year. And none of it, of course, has much to do with national political issues, much less with the Republican governing philosophy or performance in office.

    What am I trying to say here? Maybe that lame spin is easy to spot, from a mile away, and it dont make you look all that good.

  4. The republicans are at a 75 year high water mark in the senate and the house. It seems likely that they won’t set a new high water mark, but they are equally unlikely to set a new low. My gut says the hold the senate and probably the house (it is much harder to track adequately all the house results). In historical terms that would be a much better than average result.

    To put it in other terms, if the democrats don’t end up winning both chambers (i.e. at least matching historical norms), then what does that say about the democratic party.

  5. Dave Schuler says:

    If you’re looking for a pain medication for her, I can recommend Canine Pain Plus. It’s available from Only Natural Pet. Better than Ascriptin.

  6. James Joyner says:


    We’ll check it out. Right now, she’s on Tramodol and Prednazone.

  7. “One wonders whether this says more about the Republican Party’s emergence as a natural “majority” party (in the sense of being the favorites to win the presidency and majorities in both Houses of Congress in a first-past-the past system, rather than 50 percent plus one) or the awesome feebleness of the Democratic Party in capitalizing on an amazing opportunity to win a huge number of seats.”

    Or, just as likely, this says more about the incredible staying power that incumbents in general now have in our system.

  8. Cornfields says:

    In upstate New York this is certainly a historic election. You’ve got to understand, these areas are rock-rib Republican. In fact, much of the population is significantly more conservative than their representatives. I used to live there. And I have to say, that breaking 150 years of soliding voting tradition is a sea change.

    In Illinois, where I live, a corrupt Democratic governor will win with ease, despite doing everything he can to lose… the Dems have literally been running a yellow dog, and no one takes the GOP candidate seriously (and that’s with an additional 15 percent going to the Greens!)

    More alarming, is that the youngest generation is now significantly more liberal than any time since prior to Reagan. These generational shifts can be very important. When the New Deal generation died, it hurt the Dems terribly. The elderly now are more conservative, but as they go, the GOP needs to start appealing to the young. This war is playing much worse, I think, among the under 28 crowd, than it is among older adults

  9. Herb says:

    About the only conclusion one can make about the election results is, that if the Dems take control of Congress, we will all see how deep “Hate” can go. The Dems. message for the past 6 years has been of “Hate” and they will take “Hate to a new “Low”.